Seven months after the conclusion of the Berlin Conference on Libya, on 19 January 2020, Libya’s warring parties agreed to a ceasefire on Friday, 21 August.
In a statement, the President of the Libyan Presidency Council Fayez Al-Sarraj, called for a total ceasefire all across Libya, and added that the coastal city of Sirte and Al-Jufra military base should be demilitarised for the ceasefire to be fully effective. Responsibility for policing the city would be shouldered by forces of the two sides. Furthermore, he called for early presidential and legislative elections next March.
Simultaneously, the Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh, called on all parties to abide by the ceasefire, expressing hope that the ceasefire would entail the dismantling of militias and would, also, bring an end to foreign intervention in Libya. He demanded the setting up of a new Presidency Council to be headquartered in Sirte.
Saleh called for completing outstanding military arrangements following the ceasefire agreement in the context of the work of the Joint Military Commission, known as the 5+5 talks, that was formed according to the conclusions of the Berlin Conference. Saleh brought up the question of unifying state institutions in the foreseeable future. He talked, too, about reaching a Libyan consensus to end all forms of foreign intervention in Libya.
International and Arab reactions were positive to the two surprising statements. A few days before, there had been talk of mobilisation and the beefing up of forces to take on Sirte, while the forces of the Libyan National Army were strengthening their defensive positions to repulse any offensive. Meanwhile, intensive diplomatic efforts were spent, in particular American and European, to avoid a regional military confrontation pitting against each other major powers in the region, particularly Egypt and Turkey, supporting opposite sides in the Libyan conflict.
The ceasefire agreement is a promising opening for a negotiated solution in Libya, provided the Libyan parties honour it and work with Arab, European and international partners to implement the Berlin Conference conclusions in their entirety on the three tracks mentioned therein: the security-military, the financial-economic and the political tracks.
The European Union released an official declaration by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, Saturday, 22 August. The declaration warmly welcomed the ceasefire announcement in Libya and described it, rightly, as a “constructive first step forward” and a prelude for a “peaceful political solution and the termination of all foreign interference throughout the country”. The declaration, moreover, called on Libyan parties to the conflict to “resume political negotiations in the context of the UN-led Berlin process”. On the other hand, the European Union urged Libyan parties “and all those supporting them in any form”, to translate these principles into concrete actions on the ground “as part of the discussions within the 5+5 Joint Military Committee to relaunch the political process”.
The European declaration dealt with the financial and the economic decisions of the Berlin Conference, calling for the immediate implementation of economic reforms with the objective of reaching a binding agreement on a “fair and transparent distribution mechanism for oil revenues” and “enhancing the governance of Libyan economic and financial institutions”.
In fact, of all the positive international and regional reactions to the ceasefire agreement, that of the European Union has been most comprehensive and, expectedly, reflected the promise of the Berlin Process. The statement released by the US Embassy in Libya, while welcoming the announced ceasefire, said that the United States has things to say but would do so “later”. I would presume the US reaction will be quite different from what the European Union said in its declaration of 22 August. Maybe the American position will deal with the sanctions or other retaliatory measures that would face anyone who breaches the ceasefire.
Egypt, for its part, welcomed the ceasefire agreement. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi tweeted 21 August that Cairo welcomes this “important” step on the road to a “political settlement’ of the inter-Libyan conflict, and for the restoration of “stability”, “prosperity” and the “safeguarding of the economic assets” of the Libyan people. Algeria and Tunisia, two neighbouring countries of Libya, like Egypt, both welcomed the ceasefire agreement and called for a political solution and an end to foreign intervention in Libyan affairs, stressing the need for Libyan ownership of any political solution. These three countries will have to resume their regular meetings on Libya that were interrupted for various domestic reasons in Algeria and Tunisia. The three could work together and with the Libyan parties to cement the ceasefire and make it permanent, launching political, economic and military talks in Libya as quickly as possible. They could become the Arab guarantors of future agreements in this respect.
With the ceasefire agreement, the Libyan conflict has entered a new phase, and hopefully a positive one, that would help the Libyans leave behind the decade-long conflict that has served the interests of almost no one in the country.
The stage is set to find a permanent and a comprehensive solution to the Libyan conflict and, accordingly, bring stability and security to North Africa and the Mediterranean basin. If this comes to pass, the ceasefire announcement of Friday would be, without doubt, a win-win situation for all parties to the conflict, within and outside Libya, including Egypt. And it would be a first in resolving a key conflict in the Arab world in the wake of the great sacrifices and huge losses in treasure and limbs incurred by Arabs in this sad and destabilising decade that has not brought Arab countries any nearer to good governance or democracy.
The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly